27 February 2013
Posted in Radio
Sue Teddern on an idea that keeps on running
Writer Sue Teddern (centre) with actors Liz White and Julian Rhind-Tutt
February 2013: I am in Studio 60A at the BBC’s New Broadcasting House and have been instructed by producer David Hunter to swap my comfy Timberlands for a pair of scruffy, strappy stilettoes from the props cupboard. For this is my 'Colin Dexter moment'. I am to play non-speaking Hilary, who must sashay past Tom (Julian Rhind-Tutt) and Rosie (Liz White) in a hotel breakfast room. I sashay with feeling, even though the shoes pinch. If you listen really hard to episode 4 of soloparentpals.com, you might just hear me.
I’ve written a fair amount of radio over the years but soloparentpals.com is my long runner. Series one was broadcast in 2009 and starred Kris Marshall as dumped dad Tom and Maxine Peake as stroppy single mum Rosie who meet online. Top actors are always juggling several choice gigs and, if they’re unavailable, radio’s an easy medium to re-cast, which is why Julian and Liz now have the starring roles. A fifth series will be recorded in August.
Flashback to the late 1980s: I’m attending a class at London’s City Lit in writing for radio. The inspiring tutor, Olwen Wymark, gets us to create a scene starting with: ‘What the hell do you think you’re doing?’ For some reason, I come up with the image of a divorced dad who has his little girl on Saturdays and never knows what to do when she needs to use a public loo. Does he wait outside and look like a pervert? Or does he go in with her … and look like a pervert? His dilemma is solved by a passing mum. And thus are born Tom and Rosie, two emotionally raw single parents looking for love.
They lived in my head for years. After writing 13 episodes of Birds of a Feather, I dusted them off as the central characters of a potential new TV sitcom. Twice. Nothing doing.
They got filed away for a few more years but popped up again when David Hunter and I were chatting about ideas for the Woman’s Hour slot. What if Tom and Rosie meet on a single parents’ website? What if they become pals, even though he’s in Exeter and she’s in Bolton? At the end of series one, they nearly meet but Tom has to cancel. On that cunning cliffhanger, I got a second series commissioned and three more after that.
The moral of this story is that sometimes the oldest ideas are the best. I now have plans to turn soloparentpals.com into a novel and a TV series. I want to repay Tom and Rosie’s loyalty by introducing them to new readers and viewers. But I won’t feel so fond of them if they make me wear those agonising stilettoes again!
soloparentpals.com is on BBC Radio 4, 18-24 March, 10.45am and 7.45pm.
Sue Teddern is teaching a weekend workshop in Writing for Radio at The Artist Residence in Brighton, 22–24 March. Visit www.skribita.com for more information.